|by Ibrahim bin Isra'il al-Hinjew
I have always found it ironic that despite his unprecedented genius in such varied academic fields as mathematics, science, and theology, Rene Descartes never once realized that sipping a glass of wine caused his mood to change. The “Cartesian Dualism” detailed by Descartes in the seventeenth century at once became the standard intellectual position amongst philosophers, theologians, and laymen. Up until the middle half of the nineteen hundreds, it seemed a forgone conclusion that a human being was essentially two opposite and independent entities, a physical body and an immaterial mind.
It is now the year two thousand and one, an exciting time for philosophy in general and particularly for those who study the “philosophy of mind.” If Descartes was bestowed the prophetic ability to peer into the future back when he was formulating the doctrine known as “Cartesian Dualism”, he would certainly be shocked by trends within contemporary cognitive science, specifically in regards to what he knew as the “mind / body problem." The current trend I am referring to is the standard acceptance of some type of materialism (physicalism) and the near outright rejection of any and all forms of dualism. “In the contemporary fields of cognitive science and the “philosophy of mind”, there is a dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think I can give a knock –down proof that dualism, in all its forms, is false and incoherent, but that, given the way dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up.” 
The death of dualism occurred for several reasons that are generally laid out in most contemporary introductory books to Western philosophy. Surprisingly, many of these irrefutable criticisms of dualism are easily understood by intellectually lethargic undergraduates, certainly serving as a source of pride. As I have already hinted at previously, even the average man on the street who remains completely ignorant of philosophy is aware that drinking a material alcoholic liquid causes his conscious states to be altered, yielding to the deductive realization that liquid can somehow interact with the supposed immaterial mind. Now, although the average beer drinker may not fully recognize the implications for dualism upon sipping his daily beverage, introspection would surely lead him to the revelation that this seemingly simple action demonstrates one of the fatal flaws of dualism. If the Cartesian “mind stuff” of dualism eludes all physical descriptions and is completely polar to the material world, how could it possibly causally interact with and be affected by physical substances such as beer. The often repeated adage of contemporary philosopher Daniel Dennett is simple, yet revealing, for he repeatedly reminds his readers that “ anything that can move or be moved by a physical thing is itself a physical thing.” In addition, “ a fundamental principle of physics is that any change in the trajectory of any physical entity is an acceleration requiring the expenditure of energy, and where is that energy to come from?” 
Advances in mind-altering drugs and medical experiments with “split brain patients” further aided the transition from dualism to materialism within intellectual circles. In fact, experiments with split brain patients, who have consistently developed two seemingly independent streams of consciousness upon having their corpus colossum severed, indicate that splitting the brain is synonymous with splitting the mind. In addition, nuero-biologists have had a degree of success in mapping areas of the mind (ie- discerning which areas of the brain are responsible for specific human capabilities). The fact that scientists can manipulate a person’s capacity to speak and retain short-term memory simply by stimulating specific areas of the brain is both revealing and a bit scary. Although, this knowledge should not be completely surprising, for people have known for quite some time that unfortunate accidents which leave the brain damaged render patients incapable of performing certain tasks. This seemingly unfortunate fact of nature certainly delivers another blow to any validity that dualism may have enjoyed. It would certainly seem strange that an immaterial and incorruptible substance such as Cartesian “mind stuff,” most likely crafted by God, could be so easily crippled by the force of man made objects.
Although the empirical evidence supporting some sort of materialism (ie- the mind is material) is exceptionally strong and in some cases obvious, there remains a degree of hesitancy on the part of certain philosophers and scientists to adopt the standard position. One common theme has consistently made its presence felt within contemporary philosophical literature that aims to defend a dualistic position of the traditional mind / body problem. Quite simply, those who defend the existence of a non-physical origin of consciousness object to all forms of materialism specifically for its inability to give a lucid description of how physical matter could actually propagate the complex world of conscious experience. Contemporary dualists often concede that the brain and the mind seem to be intertwined, although they are skeptical that these two entities will be proven to be identical. Indeed, the defenders of dualism, referred to as “mysterians” by many contemporary philosophers, seem to be correct in asserting that cognitive science has not yet provided a meticulous and detailed account of exactly how the brain is able to orchestrate its magic tricks. In The Rediscovery of the Mind, John Searle summed this up as follows:
“Many people who object to a materialistic solution to the mind / body problem, object on the grounds that we have no idea how neuro-biological processes could cause conscious phenomena. But this is not a conceptual or logical problem, but rather an empirical / theoretical issue for the biological sciences.”Indeed, those who object to materialism commit several fallacies that should not be ignored. As John Searle has clearly noted in the above quotation, it is fallacious to assume that simply because neuro-biologists and cognitive scientists have yet to map the mind completely indicates that they will fail to do so in the future (ie- “argument from ignorance”). Secondly, even if materialism falls short of giving a detailed account of consciousness, it is fallacious to then assume that dualism simply wins by default (ie-“ the only game in town” fallacy). If defenders of dualism intend to analytically defend their position, they will need to make detailed positive claims in addition to their refutations. However, as numerous philosophers have noted, the substance dualism popularized by Descartes appears to be an ad-hoc hypothesis not subject to empirical testing. How could one possibly falsify the existence of a substance that is undetectable? Until contemporary dualists can give a clear account of how their hypothetical immaterial substance works, including testable consequences, their impassioned assertions can not be accepted as scientifically valid. Scientific objectivity is safeguarded by the principle that while hypotheses and theories may be freely invented and proposed in science, they can be accepted into the body of scientific knowledge only if they pass critical scrutiny, which includes in particular the checking of suitable test implications by careful observation and experiment.
Cognitive science is a relatively new discipline, one that has yet to have the necessary time conducive to orchestrating complex theories accessible to readers in an understandable and completely coherent fashion. Those who assert the veracity of a materialist theory of mind often point to the history of science for support. For example, we now know that the warmth of a body is simply the energy of motion of the molecules that make it up: warmth is identical with high average molecular kinetic energy. The mysteries of consciousness have certainly not been solved, but most philosophers and scientists derive a degree of confidence from knowing that at least now they know what they are looking for. Indeed, those who are involved in contemporary cognitive science cannot say for sure what form of materialism will eventually crack the mind’s code, but most will confidently predict that “immaterial mind stuff” will play no role in the equation. In the words of one of the most prominent men working in the field: We are all materialists for much the reason that Churchill gave for being a democrat: the alternative seems even worse.